Published May 12, 2018. Updated April 11, 2024. Open access.

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Temporal Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas temporalis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas temporalis

English common name: Temporal Snail-eating Snake.

Spanish common name: Caracolera temporal.

Recognition: ♂♂ 69.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=44.7 cm. ♀♀ 64.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=41.6 cm..1,2 Dipsas temporalis can be identified by having a pointed head and a light brown dorsum with 26–39 white-edged dark brown blotches (Fig. 1).1,3 The dorsal aspect of the head is uniformly dark reddish-brown, becoming dingy white towards labials.1,3 This species differs from D. gracilis by having dark brown elliptical blotches (instead of complete black bands) on the posterior half of the body.1,3,4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dipsas temporalis

Figure 1: Individuals of Dipsas temporalis from Durango, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Dipsas temporalis is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed lowland rainforests, occurring in lower densities, or not at all, in forest-edge situations.5 Temporal Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling.4,5 Their movements throught the foliage are slow, graceful, and generally occur during the first hours of the night on the lower (0.3–4.5 m above the ground) forest stratum.4,5 During the daytime, they sleep in leaf-litter or coiled inside bromeliads 1.2–3 m above the ground.4,5 Nothing is know about the diet in this species, but snakes of the genus Dipsas in general feed almost exclusively on snails and slugs. Although some snail-eaters produce saliva that is toxic to mollusks,6 these snakes are considered harmless to humans. They never attempt to bite, resorting instead to musking and flattening the body while expanding the head to simulate a triangular shape.4,7

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..8 Dipsas temporalis is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, like the Colombian Pacific coast, and it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for a more threatened category.8 The most important threat for the long-term survival of this strictly forest-dwelling snake is the loss of habitat due to large-scale deforestation.8

Distribution: Dipsas temporalis is native to the Chocó region, from eastern Panama, through western Colombia, to extreme northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Dipsas temporalis in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dipsas temporalis in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Esmeraldas province, Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Dipsas comes from the Greek dipsa (=thirst)9 and probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet temporalis is calls attention to the unusual fact that, in some individuals, the temporal scale is in contact with the eye.4.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Temporal Snail-eating Snakes are encountered frequently only in pristine rainforests near the Colombian border, an area currently considered unsafe for travelers. The areas having the greatest number of recent observations are the immediate environs of the towns Durango and Alto Tambo.

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Temporal Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas temporalis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/HMBY8129

Literature cited:

  1. Ray JM, Sánchez-Martínez P, Batista A, Mulcahy DG, Sheehy CM, Smith EN, Pyron RA, Arteaga A (2023) A new species of Dipsas (Serpentes, Dipsadidae) from central Panama. ZooKeys 1145: 131–167. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1145.96616
  2. Arteaga A, Batista A (2023) A consolidated phylogeny of snail-eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. ZooKeys 1143: 1–49. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1143.93601
  3. Peters JA (1960) The snakes of the subfamily Dipsadinae. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 114: 1–224.
  4. Harvey MB (2008) New and poorly known Dipsas (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Northern South America. Herpetologica 64: 422–451. DOI: 10.1655/07-068R1.1
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. De Oliveira L, Jared C, da Costa Prudente AL, Zaher H, Antoniazzi MM (2008) Oral glands in dipsadine “goo-eater” snakes: morphology and histochemistry of the infralabial glands in Atractus reticulatus, Dipsas indica, and Sibynomorphus mikanii. Toxicon 51: 898–913. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2007.12.021
  7. Cadle JE, Myers CW (2003) Systematics of snakes referred to Dipsas variegata in Panama and Western South America, with revalidation of two species and notes on defensive behaviors in the Dipsadini (Colubridae). American Museum Novitates 3409: 1–47.
  8. Ibáñez R, Jaramillo C, Velasco J, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bolívar W (2015) Dipsas temporalis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T203503A2766570.en
  9. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Dipsas temporalis in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaAntioquiaMutatáSheehy 2012
ColombiaAntioquiaSan IgnacioiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaAntioquiaSector PantanosRay et al. 2023
ColombiaCaucaSan CiprianoRay et al. 2023
ColombiaChocóAlto del Buey, N slopeHarvey 2008
ColombiaChocóCamino de YupeHarvey 2008
ColombiaChocóCerro IróRay et al. 2023
ColombiaChocóCondotoHarvey 2008
ColombiaChocóLas BocasiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaChocóPacuritaRay et al. 2023
ColombiaChocóRío BebaramaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaChocóRío TamanáHarvey 2008
ColombiaChocóVereda SaleroRay et al. 2023
ColombiaCórdobaParque Natural Nacional ParamilloPérez-Torres et al. 2016
ColombiaNariñoEl CharcoRay et al. 2023
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangániNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaRisaraldaAlto AmurrapáBonilla and Moya 2021
ColombiaRisaraldaPueblo RicoiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaValle del CaucaEl DanubioiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaValle del CaucaQuebrada la BateaArteaga & Batista 2023
ColombiaValle del CaucaRío BravoRay et al. 2023
ColombiaValle del CaucaSector La CuevaVera-Pérez 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto Tambo–Río NegroRay et al. 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto Tambo, 4 km W ofArteaga & Batista 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasBorbóniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurangoArteaga & Batista 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurango, 4 km N ofArteaga & Batista 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldas*Werner 1909
EcuadorEsmeraldasJunto al Río ChuchubíArteaga & Batista 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasLita,16 km W ofArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeArteaga et al. 2018
PanamaComarca Emberá-WounaanSerranía de JingurudoRay et al. 2023
PanamaDariénCerro BailarínRay et al. 2023
PanamaDariénRancho Frío Field StationArteaga & Batista 2023
PanamaDariénRidge between Río Jaqué and Río ImamadóCadle and Myers 2003
PanamaDariénSerranía de PirreHarvey 2008